Updated: 28 Apr 2008
CINEMA TEATRO NUOVO, TRESCORE BALNEARIO, FRIDAY 18 APRIL 2008
Photo from Gigi - more photos from Gigi
CLUB IL GIARDINO, LUGAGNANO DI SONA, SATURDAY 19 APRIL 2008
Having long been a fan of all things Mediterranean, my subconscious started drooling at the possibility of a few days in Italy combined with the chance to catch Strawbs…..nothing to do with me, honest, it was my subconscious thinking about it….but I was on a slippery slope and my willpower "not" to go dissolved when I clocked the cheap flights on offer last week to Verona. A quick email around to find out if anyone else was up for it - unfortunately the Witchwood friends I approached had a plethora of reasons between them why it wasn't possible. Undaunted, I sorted out the family then decided to scrape the barrel by asking my short-suffering friend Judy to accompany me. (The depth of our friendship is entirely mutual.)
Judy is not particularly a Strawbs fan, or so she has told me in the past, but I now have my suspicions,having repeatedly caught her on her mobile telling friends how great the gig was while we were over there. (One observation which Judy made after the gig, however, was that Strawbs don't have many songs.....I assured her Dave Cousins and co. have written reams and reams of great songs and her reaction was to ask why on earth they don't play them then! She's only seen them a handful of times but declared she would rather hear some different material for a change.) Judy is most definitely a fan of Italy and designer shops, and 'twas not difficult to persuade her that my proposition of taking in Strawbs in Verona was the offer of the week, despite her having yet more law exams looming.
Judy had never flown with a cheap airline before and I had to convince her that we wouldn't be mugged on the plane (apart from while using the drinks trolley) or made to sit on the roof due to overbooking. It undeniably required guts and determination to sit in a seat for nearly two hours without a TV screen to look at; no hot flannelettes nor eyemasks were offered, and cheese baguettes and peanuts were our only form of sustenance, but we gritted our teeth and made it through, somehow.
Fast forward... after checking in at our hotel and fired up by the excitement of snooker on the sports channel, it was on to the gig. It took place in a lovely little club, "Il Giardino", which was not easy to find as it was tucked away around a corner rather than being on the main drag as per the address. The band were sound-checking when Judy and I eventually arrived courtesy of Antonio, our very friendly taxi driver, and we decided to visit a nearby bar where an order fortwo glasses of wine brought with it the customary bowl of olives and some delicious breadsticks. Doors at Il Giardino were due to open at 9.00 p.m. I believe, so suitably stuffed we returned at around 9.15 p.m. to find the place brimming with people and lively, expectant chatter. I had arranged to meet a Myspace friend (of my own and all the Strawbs and related sites) – he is a musician from Venice listed as Unfolk - Alessandro Monti. Ale (that's short for Alessandro, not a type of beer) sent me a copy of his CD for Christmas, which has several very interesting and beautiful tracks on there. He turned out to be a really nice guy too, and had reserved seats for Judy and me (without my knowledge) situated right next to his own, a few rows from the front. (Apparently, by sheer coincidence, Acoustic Strawbs stopped in their van to ask Ale the way to the Club earlier in the day – amusingly he obliged and told them he is one of their top Myspace friends. Small world indeed!)
Where we were seated was unfortunately not the best place for taking photos, but we were still very grateful as the place was rapidly filling up, both with enthusiastic fans and a distinctly magical air. Just the fact that I was seeing my favourite band in another country made it special for me. I had sort of expected an Italian audience to be excitable, do a bit of chattering and make their presences heard, but in fact they seemed absolutely spellbound and extremely highly attentive from my vantage point; almost reverential, as though they had no desire to disturb the flow of the music or interrupt Dave Cousins' fascinating ramblings.
I've always wondered how Dave's stories are received in countries where English isn't the native language, and I asked Ale (who speaks excellent English, having lived in the USA and various other places) whether he thought most people there would understand about the Italian trees changing colour in autumn and so on. He thought it unlikely that many would understand very much of what was being said, but it didn't seem to matter as the audience continued to be hugely attentive throughout. I can't help wondering whether an Italian artiste would have the same response to Italian storytelling in a predominantly English-speaking club.
Nearly forgot - on our way to the gig, Antonio had stopped to ask a couple with their children in tow where we might find the Club (if a local taxi driver didn't know, Strawbs had no chance!) – after we drove off he told me he thought they were English, though their Italian sounded perfect to me. They later appeared at the Club too, still with their very young children (I am talking buggies), and we had a chat. They told me they have moved over from England to live in Italy where they both now work, and amazed me when they also told me they remembered me from Cropredy and another Strawbs gig somewhere. Shortly afterwards I was accosted, in the best possible taste, by Daniel, a Strawbs fan of long-standing from North London. Dan told me he had seen me countless times with various Witchwooders at Strawbs gigs, but had never said "hello"! (I tried to convince him that the Witchwood crowd are a friendly bunch, despite appearances.) Strange night! Dan, Christopher and Vivien - if you read this…"Hi, hope to meet you all again!"
Anyway…..the band played as beautifully as ever in the darkened ambience of Il Giardino. I had intended to keep a set-list but all rational thoughts of that kind disappeared from my brain the second the concert started. I think it was a similar set to the most recent UK tour, with no surprises apart from the glittery bowler hats the band reappeared in at the start of the second set, great fun! Unfortunately my quick photo (it had to be quick – the hats didn't stay on for long!) came out blurred. I must admit I would love to have heard "Barcarole" again – anywhere would do, but Verona (with an impromptu trip to Venice thrown in next day) would have been perfect. Some people are never satisfied, I know, I know! Dave's stories were pretty much along the lines of those told recently in the UK too, though slightly abbreviated it seemed. I remember turning round to see various album covers displayed in a glass screen along the back wall, which included Grave New World, in all its triple-fold glory. Lots of fraternising occurred with the band and audience members both during the break and afterwards, when several concert-goers pulled their chairs into a large circle for a strumalong with a collection of instruments of their own. The atmosphere was relaxed, friendly and... Italian... what more can I say? Inevitably I couldn't help but keep thinking to myself "O, how this spring of love resembleth the uncertain glory of an April day", as one does.
Verona is only a couple of hours away from Venice – last time I did the journey it was by car, but neither Judy nor I fancied driving (eeek!!) so we took the train in pursuit of all the usual tourist haunts. The trains were good and frequent, and we were happily ripped off in glorious sunshine in a café in St. Mark's Square and a gondola, and Judy gave her (husband's) credit card a severe hammering until it was blocked in various designer shops. We finished off by resting our aching feet at Harry's Bar, where we had semi-arranged to meet Dan while chatting the previous evening. Apologies Dan – we were unfortunately rather later than hoped thanks to Judy's shopaholicism. A very short, sober walk from Harry's Bar (at those prices there was no staggering. Actually, Judy turned her nose up at the cocktail she first ordered, and the waiter promptly replaced it with another, free of charge, which I thought was good of him) and onto a water-bus (they run all night) which ferried us back to the station and we were soon on our way back to Verona once again, where we took in the major sights (i.e. Romeo & Juliet's balcony) in torrential rain the next morning, before heading for home. Definitely a tonic to be recommended and repeated at frequent intervals as necessary.
Photos by Lindsay Sorrell - more photos from Lindsay